vt The Third Murder
Japan / 125 minutes / color / Amuse, FILM, Fuji TV, GAGA, Gyaga Dir & Scr: Hirokazu Koreeda Pr: Kaoru Matsuzaki, Hijiri Taguchi Cine: Mikiya Takimoto Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka, Isao Hashizume, Hajime Inoue, Aju Makita, Yuki Saitô, Kôtarô Yoshida.
A movie that takes the form of a cross between a neonoir and a legal drama, but goes in a rather different direction to become a meditation on the nature of truth—a meditation that’s arguably especially needed in an era when we’re bombarded daily by the purveyors of “alternative facts.”
Misumi Takashi (Yakusho) murders his boss, Yamanaka Mizue (uncredited), down by the river side, beating him repeatedly over the head with a wrench, then sets the body on fire. He makes no real effort to evade arrest for the crime, and faces the death penalty.
Mikako Ichikawa as the prosecutor, Sasabara Itsuki.
By the time hotshot lawyer Shigemori (Fukuyama) is called in to conduct Misumi’s defense, Misumi has already made a full confession. Yet the stories he tells Shigemori and Shigemori’s young intern, Kawashima Akira (Mitsushima), keep changing. Shigemori works hard to persuade him he should stick to a single version, one that’ll cast him in the most favorable possible light in the eyes of the judge, Ono Minoru (Inoue). Shigemori is not at this stage much concerned with the literal truth of what happened: he wants, rather, to create a “judicial truth” that’ll persuade the judge to be lenient and give his client a life sentence rather than condemn him to death.
Masaharu Fukuyama as Shigemori.
Into the picture come the victim’s widow, Yamanaka Mizue (Saitô), and especially the victim’s young, disabled yet magnetically lovely daughter Sakie (Hirose). Sakie’s limp—it forces her to drag along at a snail’s pace that’s painful to watch—came about, she tells the world, because as a child she threw herself off a roof at her father’s factory.
Suzu Hirose as Sakie.
But is that really the truth?
And is it the truth that Sakie’s father was sexually abusing her for years, ever since she was 14, and that Misumi, learning of this and of Sakie’s desire that the man should die, was her knight in white armor?
Kôji Yakusho as Misumi Takashi.
Daughters play a major role in the subtext of this movie. Shigemori, in the midst of a seemingly acrimonious divorce, has a 14-year-old daughter, Yuka (Makita), who’s acting up; he can hardly help his vision of Sakie being colored by his love for Yuka and his pain at the thought of losing her—the two girls even look quite alike. Misumi, on the other hand, has already lost his own daughter, Megumi (doesn’t appear); he last saw her thirty years ago when he was imprisoned—in a case where Shigemori’s father, Akihisa (Hashizume), was the presiding judge—for a double murder. Megumi is fond of publicly stating that she’d like her father dead. And, like Sakie, she has a profound limp . . .
Shinnosuke Mitsushima as Kawashima Akira.
“In jail,” says Misumi at one point, “at least I don’t have to lie.” The lie he’s specifically referring to in this instance is his dead employer’s habit of crookedly altering the tags on flour, a crime in which Misumi was forced to be complicit, but he might as well have been referring to the entirety of the judicial system. He was, after all, instructed by lawyers to plead guilty to a crime he now says he didn’t commit, in hopes of commuting his sentence. That same judicial system, in the form of prosecutor Sasabara Itsuki (Ichikawa) and Misumi’s own attorney, Settsu Daisuke (Yoshida), is now trying to bury the truth of how Sakie was raped repeatedly by her father.
Yuki Saitô as Yamanaka Mizue, the victim’s widow.
Kôtarô Yoshida as Settsu Daisuke (left) and Masaharu Fukuyama as Shigemori.
Truth, it seems, has no objective reality. It’s just whatever it is that we find convenient to believe.
By now Shigemori is beginning to wonder if indeed Misumi did kill the factory-owner. And so powerful is the quicksand of the movie’s tale-telling, we’re beginning to share Shigemori’s doubts—even though at the outset we watched with our very own eyes as Misumi committed the crime. Truth, as Shigemori père observes, is like the fable of the blind men and the elephant: we can only ever be aware of a part of it, and we form our opinion of the whole based on that partial knowledge.
Suzu Hirose as Sakie.
There are other shifting sands. Really Sandome no Satsujin should be Shigemori’s story: he’s the main protagonist, ostensibly the mover and shaker of the piece; he’s the one making the voyage of philosophical discovery. And yet, perhaps in large part because of an absolutely sensational performance from Suzu Hirose, it becomes Sakie’s story, as well as the kind-faced, gentle-seeming Misumi’s. That this should be so is the truth of the matter, and yet that’s not the truth the world will likely see: instead they’ll see the “truth” depicted by the judge in his resolution of the case.
Sandome no Satsujin is quite slow-moving, which may dissatisfy people with short attention spans, and yet it’s one of those movies that last well beyond their stated running time as you chew over the questions it has asked, and the thoughts it has required you to thrash out in your own mind.